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People v. Coleman

March 05, 2004


[6] Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 97 CR 9541 The Honorable Lawrence P. Fox, Judge Presiding.

[7] The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Fitzgerald Smith *fn1

[8]  Following the death of his estranged wife, Marchelle Coleman, defendant Daniel Coleman was indicted on three counts of first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(1) (West 1992)) and two counts of home invasion (720 ILCS 5/12-11(a)(1) (West 1992)). The State nol-prossed the home invasion counts and one of the murder counts. At trial, defendant waived his right to testify and presented no evidence. A jury found defendant guilty of the two remaining counts of first degree murder. The trial court, after determining that defendant's crime was exceptionally brutal and heinous in nature, sentenced defendant to a term of natural life in prison pursuant to section 5-8-1(a)(1)(b) of the Unified Code of Corrections (730 ILCS 5/5-8-1(a)(1)(b) (West 1998)).

[9]  Defendant appeals, claiming that the trial court erred in: (1) admitting evidence that defendant's wife wanted a divorce; (2) limiting the scope of defendant's cross-examination of the assistant State's Attorney who took defendant's custodial statement; and (3) failing, after defendant had expressly requested that the jury not be instructed on the lesser mitigated offense of second degree murder, to give such an instruction sua sponte. Defendant further claims that the trial court's imposition of an extended-term sentence of natural life imprisonment is unconstitutional under Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466, 490, 147 L. Ed. 2d 435, 455, 120 S. Ct. 2348, 2362-63 (2000). For the reasons that follow, we affirm defendant's conviction as well as his sentence. *fn2

[10]   ANALYSIS *fn3

[11]   I. Admissibility of Evidence

[12]   Defendant first argues that the trial court erred in admitting evidence that Marchelle intended to divorce him and leave the state. "The admissibility of evidence is within the sound discretion of the trial court, and its ruling will not be reversed unless there has been an abuse of that discretion." People v. Williams, 181 Ill. 2d 297, 313 (1998).

[13]   Prior to trial, the State made a motion in limine to determine the admissibility of evidence that Marchelle was separated from defendant for more than two years at the time of her murder and intended to divorce him and leave Illinois. The State sought to offer this evidence both in support of its theory that on February 27, 1997, defendant killed Marchelle in a homicidal rage when he discovered her plan and to rebut defendant's claim of self-defense. The State intended to call three witnesses -- Vickie Hughes (Marchelle's sister), Lonnie Lewis (Marchelle's long-time Air Force supervisor) and Donnica Massie (Marchelle's best friend) -- to support its theory. Each witness would offer essentially the same substantive testimony: that Marchelle had recently informed each of them that she had received approval to transfer from the Air Force facility at O'Hare Airport to Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, and that she intended to divorce defendant and "make a clean break." The State also intended to introduce a "to-do" list, written in Marchelle's handwriting and dated "2/97," on which "Get a divorce" was included as a long-term goal. A police forensic investigator recovered the list from the bedroom floor of Marchelle's apartment, only a few feet from where her body was discovered.

[14]   At a hearing on the State's motion in limine, defendant objected to the hearsay nature of both the proposed testimony and the list. The trial court overruled the objection, finding both the proposed testimony and the handwritten list to be admissible under hearsay exceptions to demonstrate defendant's motive and the victim's state of mind.

[15]   "Statements that indicate the declarant's state of mind are admissible as exceptions to the hearsay rule when the declarant is unavailable to testify, there is a reasonable probability that the proffered hearsay statements are truthful, and the statements are relevant to a material issue in the case." People v. Caffey, 205 Ill. 2d 52, 91 (2001). Hearsay statements offered not for the truth of the matter asserted but to demonstrate motive are similarly admissible when relevant. People v. Heard, 187 Ill. 2d 36, 66 (1999).

[16]   On appeal, defendant disputes the relevance of the State's evidence. Defendant argues that where the State presented no evidence either that defendant was present during any of the out-of-court conversations with Marchelle or was otherwise aware of Marchelle's intent to divorce him, such evidence was not relevant to demonstrate his motive.

[17]   Evidence is relevant if it has " 'any tendency to make the existence of any fact in consequence to the determination of the action more or less probable than it would be without the evidence.' " People v. Hope, 168 Ill. 2d 1, 23 (1995), quoting People v. Peeples, 155 Ill. 2d 422, 455-56 (1993). Defendant cites People v. Singer, 256 Ill. App. 3d 258 (1993), as authority for the proposition that absent proof he was aware of Marchelle's intent to divorce him, hearsay evidence of that intent is irrelevant and therefore inadmissible.

[18]   Defendant's reliance on Singer is misplaced. In Singer, the defendant killed three people: two employees who managed apartments in the building in which he lived and a third individual who attempted to intervene in the first two killings. At trial, the State called Toni Basille, a surviving employee of the building management office, to testify. Basille testified to multiple telephone conversations between the defendant and the victims regarding unpaid rent as well as to the management's decision to serve the defendant with an eviction notice. The purpose of this testimony was to establish the defendant's impending eviction as his motive for killing the management employees. Singer, 256 Ill. App. 3d at 264-65.

[19]   On appeal, the Singer court found this evidence to be inadmissible not for lack of relevancy, but for lack of foundation. The court held:

[20]   "In the present case, the identity of the out-of-court declarant is not clear, because there is no evidence relating to who informed Basille that there were multiple conversations between defendant and [the victims] regarding unpaid rents and that written notices were sent to defendant. Moreover, Basille was not present for any of the alleged telephone conversations except one. Since the declarant is unknown and the witness lacked personal knowledge, we find ...

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